Sunday, December 30, 2007

Books about writing part I

As an academic, writing is a pretty integral part of my job, and can be a make-or-break factor in getting articles through the Portals of Publication (aka peer review and journal editors) and getting grant proposals through the Gateways of Green (aka grant reviewing commitees). Bottom line is that you can't overemphasize the importance of writing.

In learning how to develop your own style of writing in academia, you're often left with few alternatives beyond emulating the style of your advisor, or to pick and choose from the core articles in your reference literature. In my experience, this is how most graduate students get started with their writing, and there's nothing wrong with that, provided you do get some input from your advisor and perhaps also from your peers. Sure - there exist courses on scientific writing, but you might not have the opportunity or inclination to follow one. Before grad school they might not have any appeal, and once you're enrolled in grad school, odds are your department won't allow a scientific writing course count towards your required course load. Luckily there are some awesome books which make developing your own voice easier. In this miniseries I'm going to describe some books I've found to be helpful, starting with:

A Writer's Reference - Fifth Edition by Diana Hacker
This book is a freakin' treasure of a reference manual. It even lies flat so it's easy to consult while reading or revising a draft. Each subsection is clearly marked with a tab and an intuitive title such as "C: Composing and Revising", "D: Document Design", "S: Sentence Style", "W: Word Choice" etc. The chapter about composing and revising actually inspired me to try some new approaches to writing papers, and the sections on sentence style and grammatical sentences. This book is gonna lie open on my desk while I work on manuscripts on Wednesday.

You NEED this book!


Anders said...

Yes, isn't it cool when you find little gem of books like this? I remember I found a pocket size book about analytical chemistry. A really wide selection of analytical techniques and instrumentation were represented. I was really impressed with the information density (i.e. amount of information/ amount of text), but what made this book really great, was the illustrations. With a little background in analytical chemistry, for a lot of the principles you didn't even have to read the text, just look at the illustrations. It's probably somewhat outdated today, as it must be 10 years old, but if I need a great illustration today, I still use it as inspiration.

Wilhelm said...

Word up. I've got several books befitting of this category, like "Molecular Spectroscopy" by Jeanne McHale